Malala Yousafzai: Will her shooting end Islamic extremism in Pakistan?

Pakistanis are united in condemning a brazen attack on a 14-year-old girl, but it's an open question whether this anger will translate into real change

Protesters in Islamabad condemn the attack on 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban earlier this month.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

On Monday, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot and severely wounded by Taliban gunmen, arrived in England for medical treatment. Malala, only 14 years old, had been targeted for demanding equal education opportunities for girls, which the Taliban claimed was a violation of Islamic law. Malala's shooting has sparked near-universal outrage in Pakistan, and even politicians, most of whom are afraid to cross Pakistan's powerful extremist groups, have openly condemned the Taliban. The Pakistani state, whose most powerful organ is the army, has long quietly tolerated extremist groups, many of which are used as military proxies in India and Afghanistan. But popular resentment against the Taliban is at an all-time high, putting pressure on the army to finally crack down on Islamic extremism. Does Malala's shooting mark a turning point?

Pakistan must seize the moment: Malala's "story now has the potential, if fully utilized, to bring about a serious geopolitical change in the region that could actually help stabilize both Pakistan and Afghanistan," says Ahmed Rashid at The New Yorker. Pakistanis have made it "clear that they, the majority, do not support this brand of Islamic fundamentalism," and are "calling on the army to carry out its much delayed offensive" against "ever-growing networks of extremists." If the army demurs, "it may find itself ostracized by the very public whose support it seeks." Pakistan must stamp out extremism if it wants "to develop as a modern state" — "now could be that moment," but "it won't last forever."

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Ryu Spaeth

Ryu Spaeth is deputy editor at Follow him on Twitter.